Feijoa skin syrup (and 9 other ways with feijoas)

I’m just about asleep when I hear it the first time. It’s a dull, definite thud, just outside the back door. There’s no wind and no traffic noise, just the moreporks saying good night to each other. Then it happens again. Thud. Thud. Thud. I freeze in alarm. “Did you hear that?” I hiss. “Mmmm, he says sleepily. “It’ll be a cat or something. Don’t worry about it.” I’m not convinced, but I’m not getting up to look either. I put my head under the duvet and go to sleep.

The next morning I’m standing in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea and it happens again. Thud. Thud. I look out the window. There’s no cat. Then I see them, half a dozen green fruit that have landed heavily on the deck. The feijoas have arrived.

About six years ago we planted five feijoa trees along a north-facing fenceline in our garden. One of them snapped in two during a gale, but the others have soldiered on. In December, they’re covered in beautiful red flowers, like early Christmas decorations. I’ve neglected ours terribly in the last year (it’s hard to care for your garden from the other side of the world) but this autumn we’ve had the biggest crop ever. The first fruits started dropping in at the beginning of April and we’re still collecting dozens every day. A fruit bowl isn’t big enough – we’re currently using a 5kg apple box that never seems to empty, no matter how many I eat. I’ve long since lost the piece of paper on which I wrote down what varieties of trees we planted (possibly a Mammoth, a Eureka, a Bambino and an Apollo?) but some fruit are giant, others are doll-sized.

Since this year’s harvest has coincided with quarantine, I’ve become obsessed with trying to find ways to use them up. Discovering Kristina Jensen’s incredible Chunky Monkey Feijoa Chutney was a revelation. This is an extremely low-stress, low-energy pickle. There’s no peeling, making it a genius way to use up all the little feijoas that are a pain to peel.

This Feijoa, Ginger and Coconut Crumble Shortcake recipe I created for Be Well magazine in the NZ Herald – and ironically had to buy feijoas to make it (when they were $16.99 a kilo back in mid-March!) – has been hugely popular, with lots of people sending me photos of their version.

My latest experiment has been making Feijoa Skin Syrup. Syrups are a big thing in France, with shelves and shelves of all manner of fruity versions in supermarkets. Some are organic, artisanal ones with hand-drawn labels and pretty glass bottles, others come in 2-litre tins and taste suspiciously of factory-generated ‘fruit flavours’. I don’t like fruit juices or fizzy drinks, but last year I became quite partial to a slosh of sirop au citron in a glass of soda water. This one is even better, not least because it’s zero-waste.

Feijoa Skin Syrup

This is as simple as it gets. If you’ve got access to oranges or lemons, add a squeeze of juice and some finely pared rind instead of the lemon verbena. Feijoa skins can be frozen for this recipe. Makes about 500ml.

  • 3 cups feijoa skins
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • A handful of lemon verbena leaves

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then leave to simmer very gently for about 25 minutes (or until the whole house is perfumed). Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then pour through a sieve into sterilised glass bottles. To serve, pour a splash of syrup into a glass and top up with ice and soda (or a splash of vodka or gin). Store syrup in the fridge.

Want more ways to use up your feijoas? Try these:

How to make fridge pickles

If you’re an organised person, you’ve probably spent the last month pickling and bottling your summer harvest. (If reports of queues outside New Zealand supermarkets were anything to go by yesterday, then you probably spent yesterday panic-buying hand sanitiser and disinfectant.) Not me, on either count. As in most parts of my life, I’m the cricket who sang all summer and then realised they should have been storing stuff away for winter. I mean, you should see my Kiwisaver.

The good news is that you can have your fun – and your pickles – without all the hassle you might think is involved in such a task. Once you learn how to make fridge pickles, you’ll be every bit as smug as one of those people who does everything in advance.

How to make fridge pickles

To make a basic cold pickle brine, use a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar, plus salt, sugar and flavourings (whole spices, garlic, chillies) to taste. Use your favourite kind of vinegar – I think white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar are best. Here’s a sample pickling brew to give you an idea:

  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Put everything in a small pot set over medium heat. Stir well until the mixture is hot and the salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the spices/flavourings of your choice – about 1 tsp whole seeds to a cup of brine. Taste it to make sure you like the flavour – adjust the salt and sugar accordingly.
Pack whatever washed (and/or peeled) vegetables you want to pickle in a sterilised jar (cleanliness is even better than godliness when it comes to pickling – wash jars in hot soapy water, rinse well and heat in a 120C oven for 20 minutes. Soak lids in boiling water for 10 minutes, then dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel). I recommend the following, either separately or in a mixture:

  • Carrots – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Cucumbers – slice them into long strips, lengthways
  • Chillies – keep them whole
  • Radishes – slice them into discs or batons
  • Zucchini –  slice them into discs or batons

Make sure the vegetables take up all the room in the jar – but leave about a 2cm gap at the top. Pour over the brine to cover the vegetables, making sure there are no air bubbles (tap the jar on the bench to pop them, or poke around with a skewer). Seal tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat. These pickles can be eaten after 48 hours – and you’re best to consume them within two months.

Thanks to Amber Sturtz (of Taco Addicts fame) for an excellent pickling tutorial at a recent Welly Hospo Wahine event.

Burger Wellington – the book

If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much lately, I can now reveal the reason. I’ve been neck-deep in the secrets of Wellington’s best burgers for the Burger Wellington cookbook – a collection of more than 50 recipes from the culinary capital’s decade-long Visa Wellington On a Plate festival. And now, it’s available to pre-order!

Making a book is a bit like raising a child – it takes a village. This one wouldn’t have happened without the amazing generosity of the restaurants, cafes and bars who generously gave up their recipes for me to translate into quantities and instructions for home cooks (one recipe initially had a recipe for cucumber pickle that started with, ‘take 50 telegraph cucumbers’, so that gives you an idea of the scale adjustments needed). The brilliant Jeff McEwan took the photos and the incredible Wellington Culinary Events Trust made the rest happen, along with the amazing assistance of Mary Egan Publishing and Garage Project (beers and burgers are a natural fit, after all).

You can pre-order a copy of Burger Wellington – or wait to get your hands on one in early August. I can’t wait to see it!

Kitchen DIY: Homemade capers

Do you want your neighbours to think you have gone mad? Here’s how.

1. Venture out to the council-managed garden areas (that is to say, those that are overgrown with weeds) on your street, preferably while wearing your gardening hat, gumboots and various other items of misshapen, mismatching clothing.

2. For best results, do this when your neighbours are walking up the street, preferably with their most glamorous friends and perfectly behaved children, in their best clothes.

3. Climb into one of the gardens and start pinching off nasturtium buds and flowers, putting them in the small bowl you have brought with you for this purpose.

4. Wave cheerily as the neighbours pass by. Tell them, when they enquire as to what you are doing, that you are picking the nasturtium buds to make into homemade capers and the flowers are going in tonight’s salad. Watch as the smiles become a bit more fixed and the stares become more glassy.

5. Scramble out of the garden and go to your house, while the net curtains across the street twitch frantically.

Well, that’s not completely accurate – our neighbours are all lovely and very few of them have net curtains. Actually, only the really weird ones have net curtains and we think it’s because they are Up To No Good In There. I do feel a bit of a dork to be sprung essentially harvesting weeds in front of them, but they should be used to it by now. In any case, I love nasturtiums and a bit of embarrassment is worth it.

Homemade Capers

Pickled Nasturtium Buds – aka Homemade Capers
Nasturtium flowers are great in salads and the leaves add a peppery bite to cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches – just pick the smaller ones as the big ones are really fiery. When the flowers have wilted (or been picked by someone like me), pick the little brain-like growths at the base of the flowers and use them in this homegrown version of capers.

At least 1/2 a cup of nasturtium buds, washed and dried
250ml rice wine vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
10 peppercorns

Put the vinegar, salt, garlic and peppercorns into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and let cool. Pour into a small sterilised jar, then add the nasturtium buds. Put a lid on the jar and leave for a couple of weeks in a cool place. The buds will be ready to eat when they have sunk to the bottom of the jar. You can keep adding new buds to the liquid.

Are you a forager? What’s your best tip?

Treat me: Fruity snowballs

Last weekend, seized with a sudden desire to Do Something Christmassy, I made my Christmas mincemeat. I don’t know why I’d been putting it off, because it took all of about an hour to make (including a trip to buy some suitable alcohol to put in it).

I used this recipe, but augmented it with some finely chopped granny smith apple, a good amount of chopped almonds and a few slugs of amontillado sherry. I also dug out the remains of last year’s version and added that to the mix (with a bit more sherry for good measure).

The resulting mixture, heady with fruity, nutty (and somewhat boozy smells) has sat on the kitchen bench all week while I thought about what to do next with it.

Yesterday morning, after spreading some on my toast (surprisingly good, but the toast does need to be buttered), I had an epiphany while thinking about gluten-free things I could make for a coealic friend. These fruity, nutty (and ever so slightly boozy) balls are the result.

Fruity snowballs
The consistency of these will depend on what your fruit mincemeat is like. Be prepared to adjust quantities accordingly so the initial mixture is firm enough to roll into balls, but still sticky enough to pick up the coconut coating. You could also use finely chopped nuts instead of coconut.

150g fruit mincemeat
60g ground almonds
60g dessicated coconut, plus another 50g for rolling
finely grated zest of an orange
1 tsp Cointreau or 1/2 tsp orange blossom water (optional)

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until the mixture clumps. Take teaspoonfuls of the mixture and roll into balls, then roll in the extra dessicated coconut. Put in an airtight, covered container in the fridge. Makes about 15, depending on how much of the mixture you sample first.

Have a great weekend, everyone. x